Mar 1, 2016

Fujifilm XF 100-400 mm f4.5 - 5.6 Lens Review

Fujifilm Canada reached out asking if i would like to try the new telephoto lens; the XF 100-400 f4.5- f5.6.  Considering that i cut my photographic teeth on a telephoto lens and have been missing extended reach since switching to Fujifilm several years ago i was quite eager to try it out.

A couple of days later the courier delivered a small box to my home.  At first i thought that it may have been something else i had ordered but the return address stated Fujiflm Canada.  It has to be the 100-400!

I cut the box open and inside was what looked like brand new lens.  It was smaller than i expected and much lighter!  This was starting off on the right foot!  I spent years standing behind a Nikkor 500mm f4 VR.  In comparison this lens is a total lightweight which i was thinking might be very hand-holdable, if the image stabilization were up to snuff!



The hood supplied with the lens is of high quality and great design.  It is sufficiently large enough, attaches in reverse position to keep size down, and has a sliding window to access polarizing filters while the hood is in place.  It connects to the lens with a designed locking tab.



To remove the hood one much push the tab in and twist the lens.


This zoom carries the same red badge 'XF zoom' that the XF50-140mm and XF16-55mm lenses carry.  I've shot these lenses and can attest to the quality of anything labeled with the red badge.


This lens is also weather resistant when attached to a weather resistant body such as the X-T1 or X-Pro2.  On the underside of the barrel you can see the same sort of vent that the XF18-135 has which i believe is in order to reduce the amount of air (and therefore dust) that enters the lens when zooming.

There are four switches on the outside of the lens.  The first is the switch to turn OIS on or off.  The second is to choose between your choice of manual or automatic selection of aperture settings.  The third is a focus limiter switch which can be limited to shoot from 5m to infinity instead of its minimum focusing distance to infinity.


The last switch is to lock the zoom in position at the 100mm mark.  It is very beneficial as the lens does tend to creep if it is held pointing downwards.


It also features a rotating tripod foot but i've yet to use it as the lens is relatively light and can be handheld for extended periods of time with ease.  The OIS is as good or better than any i've tried, including the XF50-140mm.  I'm able to make sharp images down to about 1/10th of a second, handheld at 400mm!  Fuji is claiming 5 stops and they are not exaggerating.  I own a gimbal head and a heavy duty carbon fibre tripod for my old long lens setup but doubt this lens will spend much, if any time sitting on them.

I was hoping to get this lens in front of a heard of caribou that have been hanging out in an area about an hour from my home but when i went looking for them i got skunked.   Instead i had to settle for ducks and gulls on our local waterfront and an hours walk along the ocean.  All the images posted in here are JPEGs made in camera, just a few with slight tweaks to exposure and/or contrast in Lightroom.



















In the past week i've read several times that people are having a hard time tracking birds in flight with this lens.  Let me give my reasoning why i don't think the lens is to blame.  I've a lot of experience shooting birds in flight with everything from a wide angle, to 70-200mms to 500mms with teleconverters.  Against a clean background the XF100-400 and X-T1 combination tracks birds in flight with relative ease.  My recommended settings are AF-C, Zone AF with 9 or 15 points, continuous high release mode with AF-C Release/Focus Priority set to 'Focus'.  Even when the combo looses track of birds it easily locks back on, something that i always had trouble with on my Nikon bodies (D300, D700 and D800).  However there is one fairly large issue tracking anything with the X-T1; viewfinder blackout.  And here is where i believe the claims that this lens can't track stem from.  The X-T1 suffers from brief viewfinder blackout after every image taken when shooting in continuous mode.  This makes tracking anything tough, unless it is moving in a very predictable path.  This issue, along with the fact that tracking anything with a longer focal length is much more difficult due to such a narrow angle of view may be the reason for these claims i've read.  I've just ordered an X-Pro 2 and am hoping the viewfinder blackout while using the EVF is better than the X-T1.  Hopefully Fujifilm will make some effort to reduce the EVF blackout in order to take sport and wildlife photography with the Fujijfilm system to the next level.

Focus speed is very good courtesy of the twin linear motors of this lens.  It's not quite as fast as the lightning quick XF90mm f2mm or XF16-55mm but in good light it certainly gets the job done.  In the two days of shooting this lens i can say there was never a need for faster autofocus, including when shooting birds in flight.  The focus limiter switch is very beneficial in limiting how much of the focus range the lens has to move through to acquire focus.  In lower light this lens will struggle somewhat trying to autofocus, however given it's minimum aperture of f4.5 that is to be expected.  

Image quality is simply fantastic.  Many telephotos zooms spend a great deal of time at their maximum focal length and often suffer from being soft when shot wide open at the longest end of the zoom.  Here is where the XF100-400 shines.  At 400mm at f5.6 this thing is very sharp, when wide open.  I felt no need to stop down the standard 1/3 - 1 stop to pick up some sharpness.  Images were crisp right to the corners.  I do feel it is slightly sharper at shorter focal lengths, but there is nothing to complain about at the long end.  Bokeh produced from this lens is quite pleasing to the eye and seems to be quite smooth both in front of and behind the focal plane.













In conclusion i would like to say that i am more than impressed with the XF 100-400mm lens and will be purchasing it.  I've been several years holding onto a single Nikon body and a 500mm lens just in case i needed extra reach.  Reach has arrived from Fujifilm in a small, light package that makes beautiful image!.  I'm really looking forward to trying it with the 1.4 teleconverter as i'm quite curious about the autofocus performance.

In full disclosure i will add that i am an official Fujifilm X-Photographer.  However my opinions are most certainly mine and Fujifilm has paid me nothing to write this review.

Cheers everyone and thanks for stopping by!





6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this review, really helpful.

    Peter

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  2. Your review is right on. I purchased this lens as soon as it was released in the US. I immediately left on a trip to the jungles of India in search of the Bengal tigers and other wildlife, including a lot of bird life (and I'm not generally a bird photographer). The lens works well, as you've indicated. However, when shooting at the long end with waving grass in the foreground of animals, the auto-focus is easily fooled. I found, more often than not, I was switching to manual focus with better luck. The X-T1 blackout in high-speed mode is certainly disconcerting. The lens is sharp in controlled shooting, but when it comes to moving animals it's not always "on the money."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Doug. Yes, agreed there are a few things that can make the shooting experience tighter and closer to how a DSLR performs. But i do have confidence in Fujifilm to improve these issues, just as previous models of cameras and lenses have been improved via firmware updates and next generation cameras and lenses.

      Cheers!

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    2. Scott, this is a reply to you and dougW regarding "blackout". This is a camera problem, not a lens problem, and is easily fixed: go to the first Set-up menu, choose SCREEN SET-UP, then IMAGE DISP. and select OFF. Then the camera will cease trying to show you the last shot and show you the next shot. Voila, you can now track a moving subject. Bob Raisler, Half Moon Bay, CA.

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    3. Hey Bob, unfortunately there is more to it than turning off 'Image Display'. The X-T1 does suffer from significant viewfinder blackout irregardless of what is set in camera. If you have every shot with a DSLR you would see considerable difference. I just took possession of an X-Pro2 and it seems to be better in this regard. Hopefully the X-T2 will solve the issue once and for all.

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